While growing up in Inner Mongolia, China, Iowa State University Ph.D student Qi Mu developed a love of science at a young age.
She found her passion for genetics in high school and attended China Agricultural University for her bachelors of science in agronomy. After earning her masters at Ohio State studying tomato genetics and morphology, Ames was the place for her.
“I spent several months working as a lab technician to gain more experience. This experience helped me confirm my passion for research and reminded me how much I enjoyed learning new things every day,” Qi said. “I wanted to keep improving and therefore I started my Ph.D study in plant breeding at Iowa State University.”
Since her arrival in Ames, Qi has excelled, and recently was awarded the 2020 Crop Science Graduate Student Scholarship given out by the Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), which is awarded to a meritorious graduate student in crop science. The scholarship is supported by gifts from the family of the first CSSA president, Gerald O. Mott, who trained 75 graduate students during his 45-year career, and many of his students have become eminent scientists.
“I am excited to be recognized by such a prestigious award,” Qi said. “This scholarship will be very helpful for my career development. I intend to use it for professional development like attending scientific conferences and workshops.”
Under the guidance of Dr. Jianming Yu, Qi’s dissertation uses plant height as a target trait to explore two questions in plant breeding: fine-tuning plant architecture and phenotypic plasticity.
“Plant height is an important agronomic trait, which has been contributed significantly to semi-dwarf wheat and rice during the Green Revolution,” Qi said. “One of my research projects focuses on cloning and understanding the molecular mechanisms of a gene involved in plant height in sorghum and maize. My second project is to address this issue by proposing a model that can predict phenotypic performance under new environments.”
This can help improve our understanding of the genetic regulation of plant height, enabling breeders to fine tune a plant for different breeding purposes. Yet plant phenotypes could change across different environments due to phenotypic plasticity, according to Qi, and this uncertainty leads to many challenges for plant breeders to select the best breeding lines, which can also be labor- and resource-intensive, and that is where her other project comes into play.
The future is bright for Qi Mu, as she continues to work toward her doctorate and help plant breeders as a Cyclone.